9 Harbingers of Bad Doctrine

By Justin Johnson

Taking the Bible literally creates teachers of prophecy. Taking the Bible literally, but failing to rightly divide prophecy from mystery creates really bad doctrine.

For millennia Bible literalists who fail to rightly divide have taught that prophecy is being fulfilled in the current events of their time.

Self-proclaimed prophecy gurus are ignorant of the present dispensation of God’s grace wherein God is reconciled to the world, not imputing trespasses.

They continue to teach that these are the “last days” just like Peter taught 2000 years ago at Pentecost, and that current events are signs of God’s impending judgment just as the Bible predicted for Israel.

The latest prophetic innovation is the 9 harbingers of God’s judgment on America discovered by best selling author Jonathan Cahn in his book The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment.

Harbingers are warnings or signs. Patterned after rabbi Cahn, here are nine harbingers that will help you identify a teacher of prophecy that neither understands how to rightly divide nor what God is doing today.

1st Harbinger: Using Israel as Your Pattern

Israel was a nation uniquely chosen by God to possess his promises for earthly dominion. God has not dealt like he did with Israel with any other nation (Psa 147:20). No other nation had God’s covenanted “hedge of protection”. When a teacher says what happened to Israel is the pattern for you or your country, turn around and walk away.

2nd Harbinger: Genealogies

When the application of current events to prophecies in the Bible depends on genealogies, turn off the radio. Genealogies minister questions and entangles divine prophecies with races. These racial prophecies have been fodder for loads of bad doctrine and a few wars.

“Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. ” – 1 Tim 1:4

Just because Assyrians were Israel’s enemies in Isaiah 9, does not mean they are ours in the 21st century.

3rd Harbinger: Crisis Centered

Every generation has a crisis. When prophetic teachers say that God is speaking through the national or global crisis of your generation, take a deep breath and remember 2 Cor 12:10.

The bubonic plague was said to be a fulfillment of the Revelation, as was Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, and 9/11. Lots of people have died, and lots of bricks have fallen throughout history. Why is the current generation always more unique than the rest? I know, I know, because we are closer to the end than we have ever been before.

4th Harbinger: Adding to Scripture

When a teacher of prophecy has to add to scripture to make his prophecy work, then it’s time to change the channel. Isaiah 9:10 never mentions Israel’s intent to build their towers taller. Israel’s defiance of God was always contrary to the law of God (ex. using hewn stones instead of unhewn stones). I can build a pyramid out of hewn stones and it would not be breaking God’s law today.

5th Harbinger: Spiritualizing

It would seem strange that a Bible literalist prophecy teacher would be guilty of spiritualizing, but that is what must happen for many of Israel’s prophecies to be fulfilled in 21st America. Otherwise, they are simply not happening like the Bible says they would.

6th Harbinger: Taking Away from Scripture

If a word does not fit the prophecy, just take it out. The sycamore tree is literal, but the “cut down” part is just a metaphor for “knocked down by a falling building” (Isa 9:10).

7th Harbinger: Excessive Use of Hebrew

Nothing dazzles the mind like a speaker of tongues, I mean, languages. It is commonplace for prophetic teachers to enlighten you about the hidden meaning made by linguistic leaps of faith. Beware, these can jump you right off the cliff of context.

8th Harbinger: Inventing New Covenants

The promises and the covenants God gave in the Bible are sufficient for his will. When a teacher tries to play “Let’s make a deal” and binds you to a new curse or blessing from God, avoid such an one. You have met someone who is liable to beguile you of your reward (Col 2:18).

9th Harbinger: Problems Counting

Numbers and dates are important to the teacher of prophecy. However, math is not always their strong suit. Prophetic numbers not lining up can be disasterous for teachers like Hal Lindsey in Late Great Planet Earth or Harold Camping in 1994 (and 2011).

God wants you to give 310 dollars because of Malachi 3:10? There are nine signs from Isaiah 9:10? Luke 20:13 says the Lord will return in 2013?

When the main support for a teaching is mind boggling or coincidental calculations don’t wait around for things not to work out.


The Bible should be taken literally, but a failure to rightly divide prophecy from mystery in the Bible creates all sorts of bad doctrine.

It is well known that Bible prophecy teachers rise in popularity when society is in decline. Bad prophecy teachers give divine explanations to the simple and unwittingly obscure the real cause of the world’s problems.

If we stop blaming God for current events, then we might be able to start changing them.

Remember these nine harbingers and do the work of an ambassador of God’s grace speaking the things which become sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).

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Published: October 5, 2013
Last Modified: March 15, 2018
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